Shortened sleep fuels inflammatory responses to marital conflict: Emotion regulation matters

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2017 May:79:74-83. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2017.02.015. Epub 2017 Feb 16.


Sleep problems can boost inflammation and may jeopardize interpersonal functioning, risks that may be magnified in couples. This observational study examined the effects of self-reported recent sleep duration on couples' inflammation, inflammatory responses to a problem discussion, interpersonal behavior, and use of emotion regulation strategies (emotion expression, cognitive reappraisal) during conflict. People who slept less had higher stimulated interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) production after the marital problem discussion than those who slept more. However, using emotion expression and cognitive reappraisal strategies during conflict protected couples who slept less from inflammatory reactivity. Specifically, people's short sleep did not relate to inflammatory increases when they expressed their own feelings more or when their partner reappraised or expressed their emotions more. When both partners slept less, couples interacted in a more hostile way than when at least one partner slept more. These data point to the combination of short sleep and marital conflict as a novel path to heightened inflammation, a risk that partners' emotion regulation strategies may counteract. The study also highlights the role of short sleep in more negative or punishing marital behavior.

Keywords: Couples; Emotion regulation; Inflammation; Inflammatory response; Marital conflict; Sleep duration.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Family Conflict / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood*
  • Interleukin-6 / blood
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Self-Control
  • Sleep Deprivation / blood*
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / blood
  • Young Adult


  • IL6 protein, human
  • Interleukin-6
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha